Corian Ellisor gets a lot of easy laughs from his audience in BAES (Beauty and Entertainment System), his latest mixed-modal performance piece that I saw this evening at 7 Stages. I spent most of the hour smiling and laughing as his satirical look at the role and impact of beauty took us backstage at a beauty pageant.
As the audience was let in to take their seats, we saw the four performers in robes and blond wigs prepping at small vanities. They continued to prep and even to interact with each other as though we were not there, setting a kind of voyeuristic tone for the evening.
Once the crowd had settled in, the performers removed their robes to reveal their beauty pageant outfits, complete with sashes with their character names on them. They introduced themselves as Misfortunate, Misguided, Misinformed, and Mystery. Through of blend of theatrics and dance, the four characters vied for our attention, considered the impact of displays of beauty on the progress of women’s rights, looked at how complements play a part in complex social hierarchies, and the toll that living up to social standards of beauty can take on a person’s identity and even sanity.
At times clownish and often relying on easy or cliche metaphors, Ellisor’s work nevertheless managed to have an overall cleverness, completeness, and, most importantly, sincerity that undergirded the performance. Because of that, it never felt either vapid or pretentious but, instead, encouraged us to laugh at our problems without dismissing them the way that good, traditional burlesque theater did in the golden age of vaudeville. While it didn’t exactly bring any new thoughts to the table, it said things that, after all these years, continue to be genuine concerns and that will bear repeating until we find some real solutions.
I was also particularly impressed with his sense of timing: almost every time I felt that they had taken a bit as far as it could go, they moved on. This is a common problem in satire and farce but it is one that Ellisor overcame with a grace and ease that made the performance flow very well. If he challenges himself and continues to grow as an artist then I have to say that Ellisor will definitely be one whose work will be worth our time and attention.